USO at the SOAS Occupation: In Solidarity
We, the students of the University for Strategic Optimism, have decided to support the country-wide occupations by students to show our solidarity against the proposed cuts to education. We are not just students we are members of a public under catastrophic threat. As we wrote this at the SOAS occupation, we affirm such actions as part of a substantial critique of government, not simply contingent and polemical reactions. It is an expression of our stance against the current government’s ideological agenda- an agenda that will impoverish us all.
This is a peaceful movement and we continue to act peacefully. Yet those in Whitehall who were kettled on Wednesday, including thousands of high school children, who were expressing their legitimate fear of the dissolution of their futures, have been treated like criminals. For more than 9 hours they were imprisoned by a police shield, unable to leave and without access to water, warm clothing, medical treatment and only 1 toilet cubicle for more than 3000 people. This is physical and discursive violence by the government through the instrument of the police against people’s legitimate right to question the decisions of a coalition government on a weak mandate.
We have been told that due to our government’s debt we, the people(s), must now forfeit rights that have historically been the foundation of society, one of which is free access to education for all. Why did the government jump to the rescue of the banks in the name of society only to then do away with the essential mechanisms that ensure the livelihoods and securities which we expect from a democratic government?
Privatising the University will ensure that the ability to access education will be determined solely by individuals’ financial backgrounds. As a matter of course this will fast track those from privileged backgrounds to the most elite universities.
The government’s restructuring of the education system has revealed their priority to perpetuate, enlarge and advance a logic of learning that is catered towards the economy and not society.
This is evident in the positioning of the hard sciences and certain social sciences (i.e. Economics and Law) over and above the arts/humanities and other social sciences. On what basis is the government undertaking this decision?
There has been a systemic attack on arts and humanities for not meeting research standards; for not undertaking research whose ‘value’ can be appraised according to a crude economic calculus. Indeed, how can arts and humanities meet these research standards when their departments across the country are overburdened with teaching hours, force fed with never-ending quantitative targets and ever coerced to tow the line for fear of their funding being cut? These aggressive measures are part of a vicious cycle that has been initiated by the government’s claim to know what is worthwhile education and what is not.
While these sciences are valuable for society they are not the beating heart of innovative and creative social communities and they do not have any critical capacity to guide moral, ethical and political questions that we live within and must engage with at every level in our life.
It seems that the government is knowingly dressing down the humanities’ status in favour of disciplines whose end result is net private profit, with the effect the population is coerced into financialised and managerial modes of work.
For instance, several universities and high schools are increasingly under the thumb of managerial imperatives, not democratically and academically credible leadership. This is seen in the withering power of the Universities’ board of governors to keep in check C.E.O type leadership whose prime interests are solely economic.
Such regimes are becoming the norm in various sectors across society; we see this in secondary education with the changes in funding and the introduction of ‘academies’; cuts in NHS funding that will lead people with no choice but to access private healthcare or even go without; the cutting of legal aid and the replacing of genuine workers’ organisations with ones which are led by corporate-style figureheads whose interests are indistinguishable from the mainstream interests of political parties. Those that question the normalisation of these ideological interests are harassed and witch-hunted, such as the whistle-blowers in the NHS who have brought to light the deaths and endangerment of hundreds of patients under the auspices of mis-management.
Yet, we will not be intimidated by these developments because we have a vision for a society that is sustainable, egalitarian and perfectly viable outside the narrow terms of economics. We demand breadth and freedom of choice in education, not the baseless pitting of sciences against the humanities. We demand an education that is not underwritten by financial gain but by the sake of learning itself.
Our quest is to protect education from the neo-liberal market. We will press for the resistance, and continue our own vociferous and active resistance, of the obstruction of learning as an empowering experience. This process is being created via the rhetorical transformation of it into a commodity ‘good’.
We will continue to highlight the greedy agenda of those who want to roll-out their private wealth. With this affect, they command the productive wealth of our society. We the students, refuse to accept the labels ‘selfish’ and ‘lazy’- our actions of solidarity across generations disproves these.
The occupation in SOAS is one of many acts by all of those who are going to be negatively affected by the cuts we are to be shackled with. The actions the government wish to effect are a few weeks away, we will remain committed to expressing our views concerning the *right* to a non-elitist, non-corporate education system before and beyond (if necessary) the coming ‘act’.
We reiterate our absolute solidarity with those who, on Wednesday 24th November, were subject to confinement-without-release within the arms of the law, for the best part of a freezing day. The expression of opposition to government should not be pre-figured as a criminal act. The police took up what is known as a ‘Kettle’ formation within an hour of the arrival of the protestors- thousands (yes, thousands) of whom are high school children. While the physical presence and movement of the protestors is part of the expression of their opinion, the physical presence of the police and their deeply intimidating formation marks their antipathy to such expression. The rhetoric of ‘preventative’ action (prevention of rioting, or damage to property) fails absolutely when one considers the intimidatory gesture of confinement within a tightly packed ‘chain’ of police bodies, backed with a garrison of vehicles and a reserve force of riot police. All this to ensure the ‘safety’ of the protestors, and the public? Such display of force is totally disproportionate. Such force is in place to silence the message of the protestors. Such force in formation seeks to contaminate the democratic message delivered through the visual mass of the protestors with the violence implied in the disproportionate strength of the police.
All of those involved in protests did so, and will keep doing so, in defense of a society we need to reclaim from the impending cuts, a society based on community, not corporation.
In solidarity, University for Strategic Optimism
24th November 2010